Coach's Corner

Two straight weeks weeks of solid sports with a third on the way. What's come over me? Someone get out the vapors. So, finally we arrive at the NFC East. If you adequately explain how the '95 Eagles -- a pile of pigskin drek -- won 11 games, I'll use my influence and get you a guest spot on ESPN's Sports Reporters. Rodney Peete is the worst-looking professional quarterback this side of, well, Dave Brown, so I guess we don't have to look so far. The '95 team was the beneficiary of an unexpected contribution from a bunch of podunk defenders who transformed themselves into the top-ranked defense in the league. Andy Harmon and William Fuller, nasty dudes, formed the best pass rush in the NFC. Oh, how I hope Troy-Boy sees a lot of them from the seat of his silver pants. Ricky Watters is the second best back in the division. Coach Ray Rhodes' every personal move is aimed at Dallas, which makes Coach Rhodes a good friend of mine. If the Eagles match last year's win record, I'll visit Philadelphia. Norman (Boomer) Esiason... Jesus, it's hard to take the Cardinals seriously. I mean, why let Dave Kreig, who suffered stoically under idiot Buddy Ryan, go? Wouldn't Randall Cunningham or Billy Wade or maybe Shea Morenz be a better choice? Ah well, moving on. Let's assume, with an innocent, simple-minded clarity, the mere removal of Ryan will make the Cards four games better... which makes them a legit threat to beat the Cowboys... which makes them my team for two weeks of the year. There is talent there. Really there is.

Perhaps you already noticed it's difficult for me to be analytical about the East. With the cumulative psychic whipping incurred during three Cowboy Super Bowl wins piling high, my "analysis" is, admittedly, single-minded. Is a team improved enough to, if not beat the Cowscum, at least bang 'em up, so next week's team can beat them? Objectivity is for a computer. The Redskins are not close to the old glory "Hail to the Redskins" days, but they are better. In '95, seven 'Skins losses were by less than 10 points. Not bad for a team with no defensive line or receivers. The front four are still bad, but better. A quality running back, youthful pass receivers, linebackers and pass defenders bode an improvement over 6-10 (including two glorious defeats of Dallas). Two decent QBs fighting for a job -- like in Washington -- with all the inherent turmoil, is better than the worst quarterback tandem since I was the backup signal caller for Steve Yates and the New Trier Indians in '65. This is the case with the New York Giants. Dave Brown and uhh, Stan White?? Lord, Lord. The once-proud NYGs won five games in '95. I can't see it getting any better. Still, a windy, cold, icy, Nov. 24 meeting in Giants Stadium with Dallas might prove fruitful.

To the asphyxiating barrage of Cowboys commentary, I've little to add. Two weeks ago, I mentioned they're still the best until someone proves differently. To the unbridled, giddy joy of Cowboy-haters worldwide, Humpty Dumpty looks ready for a big fall. Each team in the East -- except the Giants -- seems improved. Dallas is, like the Wicked Witch of the West, melting, melting, melting away. Sorry, just can't contain my glee. Don't be surprised to see the Cowboy win total dip below ten games, where they'll be fighting for a wild-card spot come December. Parting shots: There's nothing new, uncommon or even wrong with a team mortgaging its future. It's understood by all: This is a one-time deal, a roll of the dice, an exchange of talented youth for a proven star, to give the mortgagee an opportunity at a championship. This was the Houston Rockets' hope, as they gave up two young starters and two valued bench players for the hard-working -- but over-the-hill -- Charles Barkley. In forward Robert Horry, Houston gave up a 26-year-old player of unlimited potential. True, Horry's been a disappointment. He hasn't lived up to the expectations created by his own brilliant clutch play. But Horry, all will agree, is a player. In the Rockets' '94-'95 championship drive, he was a huge factor, averaging 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3.4 assists. In the finals against Orlando, he scored 19-plus points in three of the four games. In each season, his playoff numbers surpassed his regular-season statistics.

Sam Cassell, drafted 24th by Houston, was, no question, the steal of the '93 draft. As a rookie, Cassell, who fit like a glove into the Rockets' inside-out offensive system, averaged 9.4 points in 22 playoff games, including a 22-point barrage in 28 minutes in game seven against Phoenix. In '94, he was the only Rocket to play in all 82 games. His playoff average increased to 11 points. With two tough, durable professionals, who have proved they will produce under great stress, Houston paid dearly.

I'd understand this trade if Barkley was three years younger, instead of a banged-up 34. Charles, by his own admission, is only a shadow of the player he once was. This deal makes no sense. Houston has, in one swipe, become much older. To make matters worse, they don't seem any better. Bad deal Rockets, bad deal.

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